What You Need To Know About Getting Rape Kits In West Michigan
This week, through the news, we’ve learned something interesting about what to do if you experience sexual assault. I know that’s a strong statement, but unfortunately, it’s a fact that sexual assault happens more than it’s reported, for various reasons. But what do you do if it’s happened to you?
For most of us, our first thought after a sexual assault would be to go to the emergency room, which if you are in life-threatening danger, you should; but when it comes time to get an exam and rape kit done, all the hospitals in Kent County will refer you to the YWCA West Central Michigan. Which until this past week, when WOOD-TV reported that a lady was turned away from a hospital for a rape kit, most of us had no idea that a call to the YWCA West Central Michigan, any time 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, should be one of your first calls when it comes to taking steps to heal after a sexual assault.
Now, doing a little investigating, you realize the news story was condensed and a bit sensational in its headline. But it also, as the YWCA West Central Michigan pointed out in a statement, shows that we need to make sure everyone understands WHY the YWCA is handling rape kits and forensic evidence as opposed to the hospitals, and what to do if you should need to seek their service.
Locally, there is a resource designed specifically to empower sexual assault victims and meet their unique needs. The YWCA Nurse Examiner Program is our community’s chosen response to sexual assault. It was created over 20 years ago in collaboration with the three major local health systems, law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, and victim services.
The YWCA Nurse Examiner Program is not just another option for victims. It is, in fact, the best option for victims. And it is up to all of us – media included – to make that known to victims.
The purpose of this program is to provide comprehensive, timely and sensitive medical forensic exams with 5 days or 120 hours after the incident. The NEP is open to all ages, race, gender and sexual orientation. Their whole purpose is to provide a safe place to get care after an assault.
Just learning about what the YWCA provides, would make me want to be there rather than a cold, sterile hospital. Starting off you come in through a private entrance where you meet a patient advocate who explains the entire process and starts the general purpose of the exam, which is to feel safe. They also make sure you as the patient realizes you’re in control of the exam.
After you meet with the advocate, you then meet with the nurse who helps document the event that happened, in your words, but with someone who can offer emotional support while you work to tell your story, or at least what you can remember.
They then go into the exam, where they will check head to toe, and if you want forensic evidence collected, they’ll make sure to get what you need in case you proceed legally. The patient advocate will talk about legal action you can take if you would like and will assist if you are ready. If you’re still processing and not sure of the next steps, the forensic exam can be stored for up to 18 months after evidence is collected.
You also don’t have to show up alone, they allow you to bring someone with you for emotional support.
This video explains a bit more about the NEP:
If the time ever comes that you need to use the Nurse Examiner Program, you can call their 24-hour emergency line, confidentially, at 616-454-9922.
If you're not in Kent County, there are resources around West Michigan and Southwest Michigan that can help as well: